What’s happening in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries?

What’s happening in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries?

The coronavirus pandemic has monopolized much of the world's attention for months now, but the conflicts and crises plaguing some of the most vulnerable countries have not stopped. In some cases they have only gotten worse. Here's a look at what's been happening in some of the world's most intractable hotspots in the months since the COVID-19 crisis took center stage.

Venezuela turns to Iran: For several years Venezuela has been mired in one of the world's worst economic crises, which has made access to food and medication extremely difficult for ordinary Venezuelans. President Nicolas Maduro seems to have weathered the challenge to his political power, but the economy is another story. The country's crucial oil sector, already gutted by US sanctions and mismanagement, has taken a further hit in recent months as the pandemic sent the global economy into a tailspin. As a result, even as coronavirus clobbers Latin America, many Venezuelans have expressed greater fear of dying from starvation than of contracting COVID-19. It doesn't help that the country is now running out of gas – and fast. Workers are waiting in long lines to fill up their tanks, while fuel shortages are preventing sick people from accessing medical care. This week, Maduro turned to another US-designated pariah for help: Iran. The Islamic Republic obliged by sending five oil tankers carrying an estimated 60 million gallons of gas across the Atlantic, a move Maduro hailed as a "victory."

Yemen's civil war grinds on: Last month, a temporary ceasefire between the two warring sides – Saudi-backed official government forces and Houthi rebels backed by Iran – raised hopes that Yemen's five-year war might be nearing its end. The truce had been backed by the Saudis, in what some analysts said was a sign that that the kingdom wanted an out: Oil prices are less than half what they were a year ago and the coronavirus is having a big impact on the kingdom's economy. Meanwhile, Riyadh's involvement in "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" was complicating its ties with Washington. (Congressional Democrats and Republicans tried several times to block arms sales to the Saudis over their involvement in Yemen, but the move was blocked by the White House.) Hours after the UN-backed truce came into effect, Houthi forces continued their drive to capture oil-rich Marib province. Since then, the fighting has only gotten worse, with the Saudis launching some 190 retaliatory air raids in recent weeks, according to the Yemen Data Project. So far, repeated appeals from the UN to halt fighting as several COVID-19 clusters have been identified around the country, have been ignored, despite the fact that Yemen has little hospital capacity to deal with an epidemic.

South Sudan's fragile peace: After six years of civil war that displaced some 4.5 million people, sparking Africa's largest refugee crisis, the nine-year old country of South Sudan has experienced relative calm in recent months owing to a unity-deal that brought rebel leaders into the government led by President Saalva Kiir. But sporadic violence between rival ethnic communities has continued in eastern Jonglei state, prompting fears that conflict could spill over into the rest of the country. In the first quarter of 2020, inter-communal violence killed some 658 civilians, while looting, mass rape and abductions have continued unabated, the UN says. These inter-communal clashes have been getting worse in recent years as fighters gained access to assault weapons. Now the fate of the recent unity deal hangs in the balance in a country where some 7.5 million people rely on some form of aid to survive.

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.

Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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Guilty: Eleven months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, on a Minneapolis street corner, we finally have a verdict in the murder trial. On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all three charges: second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was celebrated by advocates for racial justice and police reform. Last summer, video footage of Floyd suffocating to death as he cried out "I can't breathe" galvanized anti-racism protests across America (some of which turned violent) that went global. We're watching to see if the jury's verdict gives fresh impetus to the nationwide movement for police accountability and broader criminal justice reform, both of which have been met with fierce resistance from law-and-order conservatives and police unions. And we'll also be keeping an eye on the sentence, as Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for his crimes.

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120,000: Ukraine warns that Russia will soon have as many as 120,000 troops on its eastern border, a larger presence than when Moscow seized Crimea in 2014. Kyiv wants to join NATO to deter the Russian forces from invading the Donbas region, where about half the population are ethnic Russians.

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During a pandemic, the work of reporters around the world is particularly important to ensure transparency about the scope of outbreaks and the measures that governments are taking to contain them. But in many countries, press freedom has been declining since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Press freedom took a bit hit over the past year, as governments across the world doubled down on censoring media that criticized their handling of the pandemic, and locking up reporters for reporting the facts. Reporters Without Borders today published its annual World Press Freedom Index, which takes a microscope to every country, ranking the ability of its media to report freely and independently. Here's a look at how countries' scores have changed over the past year.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) and discusses Xi Jinping's message to the US, Russia's buildup at the Ukraine border, and Cuba's new leader.

What did you make of Xi Jinping's message to the US at China's annual Boao Forum?

Well, he didn't mention the United States directly, but he basically said that we don't accept hegemonic powers, we don't accept people that are setting the rules for other countries. Basically, consistently Xi Jinping saying that the Chinese want to be treated as equals with the United States. They're going to be rule makers for themselves. The Chinese political and economic system, every bit as legitimate as that of the United States. This is going to be a real fight. The American perspective is that the relationship between the two is going to be very competitive, whether it's a happy competition or an unhealthy competition depends on the Chinese. Xi Jinping's perspective is the Americans are not treating the Chinese with due respect. And that's going to play out on security, it's going to play out in climate, on the economy. I mean, you name it.

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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.

Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.

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